I may never again write another blog post about discipline techniques. Why, you ask? Because the moment I vocalized this blog idea, it was as if they KNEW. My children’s behavior and obedience over the last week has been horrible! Discipline was a circus at our house, and it made me question my abilities as parent more than once. It also made me question this blog post. But, I think we can agree–we’ve all been there, right?
My husband and I have good weeks and bad weeks when it comes to training our children, and monitoring their behavior. At our house, the good weeks tend to outweigh the bad, and we are often complimented on how well behaved our children are. (Be aware, this is sometimes a dirty, dirty ruse performed by our children in public places to make my husband and I question our sanity.) I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some strategies I can share with you that might work in your home like they work in ours!
1. “This is discipline, not punishment.”
First, we have always been clear with our children that we are disciplining them, not punishing them. Discipline is about training our children to obey rules. Punishment is specifically about some sort of undesirable consequence for doing something wrong. Discipline definitely can involve consequences, but it has the added value of training. We like that word, “training.” We are training our children to be good humans, love others, and treat themselves and others well. When something occurs in our home that requires discipline, we will often explain to our children that we are not punishing them, but disciplining because we want to train them to obey better in the future. It may seem like a big concept to talk to a child about, but our six-year old has a solid grasp on right/wrong, obeying, etc. because we’ve done this with her since she was much younger.
2. Pause for Cuddles
Kids are still developing and understanding their emotions. Sometimes when the reality of discipline is thrust upon a child, their emotions get the best of them. Last year during some discipline with my son, he was a MESS. He was sobbing and upset, and I realized that he really just needed ME for a minute. He needed his mama. I took a moment out from our discipline to hug and soothe him. When he calmed down I quietly reminded him that we still need to address his disobedience. He was MUCH more able to focus and connect to what I was saying after I gave him some love. Don’t be afraid to take a minute to love on your little ones before you lay down the law.
3. The Classic Time-Out
I confess that I am not as good at utilizing time -outs as my husband is. Often, after a hard day, he will ask me how many time-outs one of the kids has had, and I will sheepishly say, “One,” and they probably should have had 37.
For time-outs, we have a specific spot that the kids sit. They know we will set a timer, and the time does not start until they stop fussing or crying. Often the idea of a time-out sends our kids into tears, and we don’t allow them to sob through their entire time-out and they know it. We gently ask them to stop crying, and remind them that the timer will not start until they calm down. Calming down may include some cuddles (see above), but the time-out will still happen.
When they have calmed down, they have a chance to “push the button” to start the timer. They like this, and it’s a weird bonus that seems to help them feel like they have some control in the situation. The location of our time-out can also change. If they will not calm down, or are distracted by a sibling in the room, we will take them to their bedroom to sit on their bed. This minimizes the stimulation going on around them, and sets us up for a more successful time-out.
Finally, when the timer goes off, we show it to them and ask them to come to us. We ask them to tell us why they were in time-out. If they don’t list the correct reasons, we guide them into the understanding of the catalyst for the time-out. We then ask them what they could do differently next time to avoid a time-out. We let them think about this and share their answer. After a big hug, we send them on their way.
4. “Let me know when you’re ready to talk.”
A technique I’ve especially grown fond of is the “Let me know when you’re ready to talk” technique. When our children need to talk through their behavior with an adult, they may not initially feel like it. As the parent, I may also need a minute to cool-down or gather my thoughts also! We give our kids some space to get to that place without forcing the conversation. This has helped us be more successful in our training.
This can go hand-in-hand with our request for one of our children to “sit down and think about it.” This is not a time-out, but a moment where we make our children aware that their behavior is questionable, and they need to take a minute to think through what is going on, and what is going wrong. When they tell us they are ready to chat, we know they mean it and we know they are ready to listen.
5. Three Ways
Since becoming a mother, I have felt especially conscious of teaching my kids to think critically about their daily life. I want them to be good problem solvers, and I want them to be confident in their ability to face life’s challengers without needing my constant consultation as they become adults. One way we’ve started to teach them critical thinking through discipline strategies is asking our children to brainstorm ways to handle the situation they are currently being disciplined for differently in the future.
For example, if one of our children slams a door in their sibling’s face because they don’t want to play at that moment and they are trying to get away, we will ask them to tell us three ways they would handle that situation differently than slamming the door in their sibling’s face. Their answers might be, “Ask mommy or daddy for help because I don’t want to play right now; tell them I don’t feel like playing right now but maybe later; and shutting the door softly instead of slamming it.” Based on their answer we praise them and guide them so they are encouraged and remember the interaction for the next time. This has worked wonders AND it has built their confidence in their ability to problem solve and manage interpersonal interactions.
6. Kind Heart and Kind Voice
We all know when we’re being fed a big spoonful of attitude from one of our children. I’m sure you can also spot the insincere apology just as good as I can. This is where the “kind heart and kind voice” concept comes into place. When our children are talking to us during discipline or apologizing to us or siblings for their actions and we sense some attitude, we will quickly remind them that we want them to talk to us with BOTH a kind heart and a kind voice. They understand that this means we want their intentions to be sincere, and their voice should match their intentions.
Pro tip: Sometimes, as the parent, I have to say, “Kind heart, kind voice. Kind heart, kind voice,” inside my OWN head before addressing the fact that my child has just dumped out the entire box of train pieces that I JUST finished picking up off the floor because we are trying to get out the door to the grocery store. It can be a great reminder for us as parents, too!
7. “Look at my eyes.”
When we discipline our children, we try very hard to get down on their level and encourage them to look at our eyes while we are talking to them. Guilt is a motivator to look away. My children will often look down or away from me when I’m trying to talk them through discipline. I will calmly and gently say, “Look at my eyes.”
I want them to look at me while I’m talking for a few reasons. First, I want them to see my eyes so they can see that I’m not angry. I want them to see that I am training them, and not punishing them. Also, I want them to know that it is okay to look at me after they have messed up. I don’t want them to feel as though they should be ashamed, and not be able to look me (or other adults) in the eye after a mistake.
Side note: “Look at my eyes” only works if you are, in fact, calm and not mad. I know from experience that this can backfire if you’re doing everything you can to not blow your top because this is the seventh time you’ve asked them to put their shoes on and they’ve continued to play with their truck.
8. “What is more important: brother/sister or that toy?”
My final discipline tip has to do with perspective. Both of my kids are old enough now to play with one another, and this means they are often playing together with toys. Fighting over a toy is COMMON practice in our home. The yanking back and forth of a toy they both want happens often. When this happens, we will call the initiator over and talk them through what we are observing. And then we ask the golden question, “What is more important: brother/sister or that toy?” Spoiler alert: The correct answer is their sibling.
When they tell us their sibling is more important, we facilitate a conversation about how they are putting the toy above their sibling and encourage them to behave in a way that would show us that their sibling is more important than the toy. If they say the toy is more important (and it happens!), you have to adjust the conversation.
Our kids are not perfect. They will never be perfect. But I’m going to try my hardest to help them be the best human beings they can be. It starts now, and disciplining them after disobedience is part of that process. These strategies have been successful for us in our home, and hopefully at least one of these discipline strategies will help you as well!
And now that this blog is complete, please let this crazy week of disobedience in our house cease and go back to normal!